Excerpts from my latest article at Practical eCommerce, Top 5 Reasons to Use Google Webmaster Tools.

Google Webmaster ToolsThere’s a common misconception that registering with Google Webmaster Tools somehow enables Google more access to information about a site. In fact, just the opposite is true. Google Webmaster Tools provides site owners access to data available from no other source, data every ecommerce site needs to manage its organic search channel.

  1. Organic Impressions: A critical metric to paid search campaigns, impressions have been painfully absent for organic search programs. Google, however, gives search engine optimization professionals a glimpse into impressions in the “Search Queries” report under “Your Site on the Web.”
  2. Real Ranking Data: In the very same Search Queries reports for top queries and top pages, Google also provides average ranking data. This is a fantastic metric to have, with so many ranking tools falling prey to personalization biases.
  3. Complete Backlink Reporting: Reliable backlink data is becoming increasingly hard to find. With Yahoo! Site Explorer’s sad demise and Bing’s refusal to honor the link: query, Google has become the only major U.S. search engine to give any information on backlinks.
  4. +1 Metrics: Google offers a trio of Google +1 reports, including “Search Impact,” “Activity” and “Audience.” The search impact report details how many impressions were annotated with a friend’s +1, and how many clicks those +1 annotated search results drove.
  5. New Crawl Error Reports: Just this week Google expanded their crawl error reporting in an attempt to make it more actionable. This report has always been somewhat problematic because it lists errors that sometimes have a very valid reason for existing.

Read the article in full at Practical eCommerce with more detailed descriptions of the features and illustrations »

BONUS 6TH REASON: Robots.txt Testing: Test changes to your robots.txt files before posting them live and discovering you disallowed your key product lines. You can find this indispensible tool under “Site Configuration” and then “Crawler Access.” Never update a robots.txt file without testing it with this tool first.

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